Today is the day that Dan is due to finish writing a book. Yes, it’s deadline day. These crop up at regular intervals, but I don’t have very much to do with many of them. For comic book and short fiction deadlines, there’s really nothing much for me to do, in fact, I’m rarely even aware of them; they simply fit into the normal ebb and flow of office life. Today is different. Today sees the final sentence added to the latest novel, a book that might have been in the system for years, from the first ideas to the title, from the first pitch to the contract being signed, from the delivery of the first chapters to the receipt of the first advance payment.
Day zero, the day a book begins, generally gets lost in the mists of time. Who remembers when that idea first got jotted down in a notebook? Who remembers when it bubbled to the surface as the possible basis of a possible plot for a possible novel that no one had commissioned, yet? Day zero doesn’t go down in the annals of history, not in this house, anyway. Day eleven-hundred-and-forty-seven, (or whatever it is), deadline day: the day on which the last sentence is given its full-stop, and the first draft of the manuscript is delivered up to the publisher is a day that most certainly goes down in the record books.
We are approaching our fortieth deadline day, and we have evolved coping strategies for making sure they pass smoothly... Well, I have, at least.
Dan sleeps less well the last few days before a book is due. He rolls about and snorts and gets up in the night. So, on the eve of deadline day, I try to be totally relaxed, and let him fall asleep next to me while we’re sitting in bed watching some rubbish on DVD. He wouldn’t be terribly good company if he were awake, so why should I stop him sleeping? He wakes up on deadline day early, certainly as early as any other day. I roll over in bed to ask if he’s okay, and then he’s gone.
A couple of hours after Dan gets up, I make a random noise down the stairs to let him know that I’m about. Something along the lines of “Coo-oo”. Then I wait. It’s winter, so I sit in bed with a laptop and go through my in-box, which will invariably contain several e-mails from Dan. Some of them will have little paperclip doohickeys where he’s sent chunks of the work in progress. Others will include instructions, like, “haven’t finished, read don’t edit”, or “read part two first”, or “look out for compound words”, or “can you find out who carried out the first successful blood transfusion”, or whatever it might be.
Then he appears with a cup of tea, Earl Grey, thank you very much. To be fair, Dan brings me a cup of tea every morning, but some mornings, I meet him in the kitchen when I hear him moving about. Not on deadline day. On deadline day, I let him get on with it. I don’t deviate from the routine at all on deadline day. He brings my tea and hands it to me from his side of the bed, and he stands there for a minute. He isn’t really in the mood to talk, so I say thank you and ask how it’s going in an airy sort of way. He mumbles something, and off he goes again.
And that’s it. I stay where I am. I begin to go through the chunks of manuscript he’s sent, doing a simple line edit, and following his basic instructions. There are lots of reasons for staying upstairs. Our bedroom is big with a reading corner and a table and chairs, so there’s plenty of room for me to find somewhere comfortable to work. If I go downstairs, I have to go through the kitchen, and that’s Dan’s space when his head is full. I could go through it into the wendy house where I usually work, but he’d hear me, and I don’t want to disturb him. The stairs to his office are also in the kitchen, (and yes it is a weird house).
Less than an hour passes, and Dan’s back with a cup of coffee. This is very early for him, it’s usually me that makes the second cup some time around ten. I take the cup from him and say thank you. He slopes off again.
He’s not miserable you understand, or difficult, or moody, he’s just in the zone and there isn’t room for two.
The door bell rings, and I realise that’s it’s Tuesday. Groceries get delivered on Tuesdays, and Dan always has a chat with the delivery dude. He’s got his Christmas list handy, as well, so there’ll be no interference from me on that front. I hear happy talking noises, but no actual words, and then the sound of the front door closing, and he’s off again, into the bowels of the house, to get on with things.
For the next little while, I check Twitter and Facebook. Dan has updated his status on FB, but hasn’t done anything on Twitter, so I do something. Something always comes up, and, today, it’s reviews of “Prospero Burns” and “Heroes for Hire”, the two most recent projects to come out of the office. I sort out some links and Twitter some, and send some to Dan via e-mail to enjoy when he gets a chance. I flag a couple of other things for him, and get back to reading the latest bits of manuscript.
Dan appears about an hour after the last time with the central heating thermostat in his hand. He gives it to me, without a word, and reaches for the cardigan he keeps draped over the footrail at the end of the bed. I’m not sure why he doesn’t know how to work the thermostat, but it doesn’t matter. I adjust it and give it back to him, and he puts it on top of the wardrobe nearest the window, the coolest part of the room. Clearly he’s cold. He asks if I want a cup of tea; it’ll be my third and it’s barely ten in the morning, but that’s what happens with displacement activity. I tell him to put the kettle on and I’ll see to it. He goes away. A few minutes later he’s back with a cup of tea for me.
“I was there,” he says, handing it over.
The kettle is a ‘thing’ in our house. Due to a condition that is too boring to talk about, albeit it’s rare, and a bit weird, my hearing is now pretty crap. There’s nothing wrong with my ears, per se, it’s just that other things prevent them from functioning. That doesn’t sound like it has anything at all to do with our choice of kettle, but you’d be wrong. We have an old-fashioned kettle that stands on the gas ring, back right, of our cooker. It has a flip down lid in the spout that whistles. It has a glorious sound, one that I can actually hear. I use it! I can be on the other side of the kitchen with the kettle boiling like buggery and not hear it if the whistle isn’t in the correct position.
The whistle is shrill, which is why I can hear it. It is also why no one else uses the whistle. They can all hear the kettle boiling without it, and, to a man, and woman, they find the noise the whistle makes excruciatingly unpleasant.
Clearly, this morning, Dan really didn’t want to listen to that whistle. I’m glad that I made the decision to stay upstairs, it was clearly the wisest course of action. Again, let me reiterate that Dan is not fussy or moody or difficult in these situations, he’s just... Well, he’s just Dan, only to a greater degree than normal: Dan squared if you will, or Dan to the power of deadline.
I hear a very satisfactory thud as the mail hits the bare boards downstairs. If I can hear it, it’s got to be heavy, so, probably that book I ordered for a friend’s birthday. I stay where I am. Dan appears a few minutes later with a cardboard parcel from Amazon, which he drops on the bed.
“It’s for thingy?’ he asks. “E-mail me a note for her and I’ll print it off and find an envelope.”
“Her address is in the rolodex,” I say, without thinking, and then cover, quickly, “so don’t bring it back up. I’ll sort it out later.” This is not the time to go thrashing about in Dan’s office, or on Dan’s desk, where the rolodex lives; there could be anything on there: scads of strategically positioned post-it notes, books cracked open at very important places, a carefully positioned action figure or two. In fact, the rolodex might be doubling as a piece of heavy artillery or a small vehicle, or the entrance to a bunker, or something.
Dan’s back a few minutes later. Clearly, he’s looking for displacement activity. The note is printed, folded and inserted into the book, which is in a manila envelope, addressed with the correct information to get to my friend. What’s more, the book is a second hand copy of “Fell Cargo” that I’ve tracked down, and he’s signed it and put a nice message in it. He doesn’t say “Ta-dah!” but I know he’s thinking it.
Eventually we sit down to lunch. I don’t eat much in the middle of the day, so it’s mostly about Dan eating and us catching up. He’s very quiet, so I pick up my laptop and continue with the line-edit. It’s deadline day, and I hate to get behind, so I do what arrives in my in-tray as soon as I possibly can.
“That’s an odd choice,” he says, reading my tracked changes to his manuscript over my shoulder. I explain why I made the choice, but it’s deadline day, and he’s not sure. I remind him that’s why I track changes and make suggestions, to give him the thinking room to make final choices. The truth is, when push comes to shove, he invariably goes with my suggestions, but that doesn’t make me right; it only makes me very used to his ways and his work, and useful to him as a first reader and editor... some of the time.
I follow him downstairs after lunch and there is the evidence, if ever I needed it, that this isn’t just deadline day, it’s ‘crunch day’. Dan has left the door to the dishwasher open.
It’s not much, is it, an open dishwasher door? Dan is master of the dishwasher. I didn’t want it, and I’ve never learned to stack it properly. I’d rather wash-up in the sink, and on the rare occasions when I do need to use it, I can’t get nearly as much in it as I’d like. Dan has taken to the bloody thing with gusto, it’s as if it belongs to him, somehow. I leave it to him. It seems fair enough. Today, Dan has left the dishwasher door open. The dishwasher has clean dishes in it. Dan has loaded and run the dishwasher. Dan doesn’t usually do this during the day. This is his evening job.
I take my cue, and I unload the dishwasher.
That sounds like it’s passive aggressive on his part. It isn’t. It’s just deadline day.